A REBEL councillor has quit the ruling Conservative group on Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council – saying she can better serve her residents as an independent.
Councillor Onnalee Cubitt informed colleagues of her decision last Thursday after spending more than six months on the fringes of the group due to her outspoken comments on the Manydown land saga.
The 46-year-old has criticised the Tory administration for refusing to include the 820-hectare land in its Core Strategy house-building blueprint, which instead proposed thousands of new homes around her Basing ward.
She told The Gazette: “I will continue to represent my ward to the best of my ability, and I can do that better as an independent than I can in this Conservative group. I felt I was being disenfranchised from my residents and my position was becoming increasingly untenable.”
Cllr Cubitt’s departure is a blow to the Conservative group, which saw its majority on the council reduced following the local elections. Her decision to move across the chamber has cut the Tories’ majority to just two.
As previously revealed by The Gazette, Cllr Cubitt, who will now be sitting as an “independent Conser-vative”, was suspended from the group last October for backing a Labour motion that called into question the integrity of the Conservative group over its stance on Manydown. The council has since been found to have acted “unlawfully and irrationally” by a High Court judge, meaning its Core Strategy for new homes must be overhauled.
Cllr Cubitt, who still supports Basingstoke MP Maria Miller, said: “My worry is that the Manydown issue is just going to be swept under the carpet ,and that nobody is going to be held accountable.
“This is one of the most shameful episodes in the council’s history. Tens-of-thousands-of-pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent on this issue, and it cannot be ignored.”
Conservative group leader Cllr Clive Sanders, left, told The Gazette he only found out about Cllr Cubitt’s decision to quit the group from Tory political assistant Peter Markham, and said he was “disappointed” he was not contacted personally.
He added: “It is a shame that someone would choose to depart like that, but it is her choice.”
Cllr Sanders said he had chosen to leave Cllr Cubitt off council committees such as planning and infrastructure, and audit, governance and accounts, as members on these will play a key role in the future of the Manydown land in the coming months.
He explained: “I wanted to make sure that there were no people on the key committees who had a connection with Manydown, or SOLVE (Save Our Loddon Valley Environment pressure group) so that it can be dealt with dispassionately. That would clearly not be the case with Cllr Cubitt.”
However, ironically, now sitting as an independent, Cllr Cubitt has been given a place on both committees, with the agreement of the other three independents.
Cllr Cubitt’s fellow ward member in Basing, Cllr Sven Godesen, also had his knuckles rapped by party bosses for siding with the opposition over Manydown, but he has so far opted to remain within the Conservative group.
He said: “I can understand the rationale behind Onnalee’s decision but I would have preferred it if she had worked within the group.”